Andrew Carton's Treonauts is universally considered a better source for information and insights on the smartphone of his passion than eitherof the companies who produce the phone. We were going to call him an invisible influencer, but he has become entirely too visible for that. We are still intending to include him under "consultants who get it," but the success of his site is eliminating his need to consult. In any case, his is an interesting story, or so it seems to us.
1. Can you share with us some of your personal and professional background?
Probably the best place for this information is: https://alteraxion.typepad.com/about.html but please let me know if you would prefer that I provided you with a short version.
2. What made you decide to start a blog dedicated to the Treo?
It was not a direct route and as is often the case there was much luck in the mix. I had founded a consulting company specialized in Digital Entertainment Convergence and had launched a successful business blog (https://blog.alteraxion.com) as a platform to discuss many of the ideas motivating the projects that I was working on.
However, although the business blog was extremely rewarding I felt that I needed to engage in conversations about convergence issues with a wider consumer audience – I wanted to know how people were reacting to these issues. I began to look around the office and home for products that encompassed this convergence theme and I suddenly stumbled upon my Treo smartphone – this was my ‘Eureka’ moment. I had some very specific ideas about the type of information that I thought was lacking elsewhere and that I wanted to develop on Treonauts as well as the need to develop a particular spirit that would reflect not only my views but which would also respect those of an established community. One thing’s for sure – I wanted to make it fun! Not just about technology specifications nor about endless babbling or ‘my life with Treo’ but a destination where people could learn something while being entertained.
The operative word throughout is the ‘dedicated’ part – people feel this and respond in equal proportion.
3. What sort of response has there been?
The response has been overwhelming. From a blog that initially had a few hundred visitors per day to one that now boasts over 160,000 unique visitors per month (For perspective, consider there are only some 1.5 million Treo smartphones in the world ). Moreover, Treo owners are now being described as “Treonauts.”
After having been ‘Slashdotted’ following a post with leaked pictures of palmOne’s forthcoming Treo 650 smartphone and seeing the daily visitors jump to 15,000, I realized there was a strong interest in what I was doing and I decided to devote a large portion time to further developing the blog.
In the following months, Treonauts has been mentioned in hundreds of websites, forums and other blogs and I’ve had the opportunity to speak at blog conferences and the press has extensively interviewed me. Additionally, I have earned a good reputation in the Treo and Palm communities for in-depth product, software and service reviews. For example, I was recently asked to be a judge for Handango’s Software Awards.
Most recently, PC World’s editor in chief wrote an extremely kind post where he stated that “I'm not sure if there's such a thing as Treo spirit, but if there is, Treonauts definitely has it” https://blogs.pcworld.com/treolog/archives/000657.html
I am deeply touched by the many kind comments that I receive.
4. You seem to be selling just about every Treo related product ever invented on the site, except of course, the Treo. Have you discussed selling it with the Palm people and what was their response?
For clarification purposes, we don’t sell any product, software or service but instead have partnered with leading merchants who have developed branded stores for us – one for software https://software.treonauts.com and one for phones & accessories https://store.treonauts.com , which they maintain and fulfill on our behalf.
Additionally, we have signed up for a number of so-called ‘Affiliate Programs’ which provide us with a small commission on purchases made via Treonauts. In this respect, we have signed up for palmOne’s affiliate program via a company called Commission Junction but have not engaged in any other commercial sales activities with palmOne.
5. How would you describe your relationship to Palm?
Treonauts is unaffiliated in any way from either palmOne or PalmSource. Our relationship with both companies is generally friendly but there is no direct collaboration with either on any matters relating to the blog or their businesses.
I am somewhat disappointed to see that palmOne has not engaged more deeply with us beyond considering us to be “a great fan site” – it is obvious that the blog is a lot more than this. However, one could argue that until recently I was an ‘unknown entity’ and it may therefore be understandable that they proceed with caution. The future will tell how our relationship develops but overall I am confident that it will be a long and fruitful one.
6. Can you share with us any numbers regarding what your revenue is from the google ads and product sales?
I don’t divulge our revenues from individual sources but the combined monthly revenues from all sources have been as low as $50 when we first started to as high as $20,000 a couple of months ago - they currently average some $8,000 per month.
7. Is Treonauts your day job? What else do you do?
Although I run another consulting company (see #2) the fact is that I am now almost entirely dedicating my time to Treonauts and the business of blogging – both endeavors which I plan to continue to be involved in for some time to come. Anticipating this, a few months ago I registered Treonauts as an independent business.
8. How often do the press and analysts use you as a source when writing about either the Treo or any other category related to handheld devices?
It’s difficult to say exactly but having been in touch with many of the leading technology journalists and analysts in the US most of them will openly admit that they are regular readers of Treonauts either because they own a Treo themselves or because it provides them with a good ‘pulse’ of what is happening within this community. There is no doubt that they consider Treonauts to be an important resource.
9. Do you have any interesting anecdotes about the blog or comments you have received?
Where do I start? ;-) Some of the best stories follow specific posts that I wrote. Below are some but by no means all:
Everybody thinks that the Treo is just another phone…
This very early post becomes widely syndicated and opens people’s minds to the joys of owning a Treo and its incredible versatility https://blog.treonauts.com/2004/07/treo_600_is_gre.html
palmOne thinks that its new Treo 650 has more than enough memory…
I warn all the palmOne senior managers at a conference in SF that 32MB is not enough and that people are expecting double this but I am ignored. A few months later the issue ‘explodes’ and palmOne urgently responds with a promise to fix what now becomes known as ‘The Memory Issue’. https://blog.treonauts.com/2004/11/indepth_the_tre.html then over 700 people complete a 20 point survey within 72 hours https://blog.treonauts.com/2004/11/treo_memory_sur.html in response to this.
I argue about my Treo being better than a friend’s BlackBerry…
The post says it all but basically after thinking about the points that we had argued about I decide to design my own Treo smartphone… 50% of people responding to the poll say that they would buy one if it were available today! https://blog.treonauts.com/2005/03/taking_a_shot_a.html
Also, some people take issue with a blog having advertising and/or commercial links but my understanding of this was completely changed following a recent email exchange with a Treonauts reader. He had originally emailed asking for advice about certain accessories that he was considering purchasing and I took 10 minutes to respond. He thanked me and asked if there was a link he could follow to make sure that I got my ‘commission’ on his purchase. This is when I realized that there is an implicit understanding and mutual respect between the blog reader and the blogger when it comes to these matters. It was an eye opener.
Other stories include people telling me that I wrote about something or other that they had _never_ thought about even though they had been longtime Treo or PalmOS users – I love these instances when people ‘discover’ something new or think about something in entirely different ways thanks to a post that I have written.
10. How has blogging changed your life?
Blogging has not only changed but totally transformed my life. I am extremely private and from the very beginning, one of the hardest things to do with the blog was to completely ‘expose’ myself to the world – it felt a bit like standing naked on a podium at first.
I have always worked at the ‘bleeding edge’ of business and technology and have not always succeeded to get my ideas across. With the blog I am now unencumbered by any client or other corporate relationships and I have the freedom to explore and develop new ideas while receiving almost instant feedback from a large community. At the same time, the blog has ‘amplified’ my voice a hundredfold and I’ve gone from chasing people to them chasing me.
There is no doubt in my mind that were I to start another business tomorrow I would first build a blog for it and then grow the business around this.
Additionally, blogging has allowed me to put to use the vast online knowledge that I have accumulated over the past 10 years to go back to my entrepreneurial roots starting a new company, work on something that I truly enjoy doing while sharing it with a fantastic group of people on a daily basis – could anyone ask for more?